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Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Gigantic figures at the entrance of the
1984 New Orleans World's Fair
It was during a tough time in our marriage, when Micki was converting to Catholicism, and I was converting from Protestant fundamentalism to agnosticism. I needed a break, and so did Micki, from me, so I decided to go to the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans with one of my 833rd Ordnance army buddies, Alex Lovato.

Micki and I had no vehicle then, so this meant me hitchhiking from Everett, Washington to Alex’s place in Albuquerque, New Mexico. From there we would go in Alex’s Mustang to New Orleans, visit the World’s Fair, then drive up and visit a mutual buddy in Chester, Illinois, and then Alex would drop me off in Wichita Kansas, where I would visit my sister while Alex drove home. I would then hitchhike from Wichita back to Washington State.

The hot sun beat down on me in the Southwest. I did my best to stand hitchhiking in the shade of even tiny, road signs. I chugged two large cokes at a roadside cafĂ© within a few minutes. But by the time I got to Albuquerque I had a triple sunburn on my face, the worst I’ve ever had. I looked like Clint Eastwood in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” after he had been left in the desert to die. Alex brought me over to his parents’ house to introduce me, and I ate with them there, looking like a monster.

From Albuquerque we drove to the World’s Fair, but on the way, in southern Arkansas, Alex’s battery went dead. This was a scary place. Most everyone was black, and every white guy looked dangerous. We learned that a Walmart was two miles away, and I suggested to Alex that we hitchhike. That was out. Alex apparently had a greater fear of hitchhiking than he did prejudice. And so the two of us began our two mile walk to Walmart in the humid, southern heat.

Cars full of black guys cruised slowly by, with no love showing in the myriad of eyes as they stared at us. I think I must have made some comment to Alex about him being safer than I because he wasn’t as white; but Alex informed me that a great prejudice exists between blacks and Mexicans, too.

We managed to get to Walmart alive, where we bought a new battery and a handle to carry it. It was heavy, and I was hot, and I pleaded with Alex to agree to hitchhike back to the car. He wouldn’t, and we practically had an argument there on the shoulder of the street. Finally we came up with a solution. Alex would walk back alone, while I hitchhiked with the battery.

He was only a couple blocks down the street when I was picked up by a rough-looking, middle-aged, black man. This driver did his best to be cordial, and he knew about our situation by the time we gained on Alex. I asked him if he’d be willing to give my friend a ride, too, so he stopped next to Alex and I called out the window, “Wanna ride?”

Alex hesitated, then got into the car. For the rest of the way, the driver explained to us why he picked us up. He said that once he was in a bad way, needing a ride, and a white man picked him up and helped him out. It was sad how this driver of ours felt he had to justify his good deed, how he needed to explain why he would do a favor for a white guy. When he dropped us off at Alex’s Mustang, as we were getting out, I turned and looked at the driver and smiled and said, “Now you’re even. Thank you.” He smiled back and nodded.

Alex was elated. We had hitchhiked two miles and survived! I mentioned that I had hitchhiked fifteen hundred miles to his place and survived, too.

The World’s Fair wasn’t as good as the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, but it was fun with the Vatican Exhibit, the Space Shuttle, the synchronized swimmers and all. Our visit with Joe in Illinois was nice, although Joe had a terminal illness and died not long after that. Of course visiting my sister and her family was great. And I finally hitchhiked home without a hitch. Within a few years our tough home life turned to bliss, and time went on. Since then I’ve thanked countless people for their help, and they, too, have smiled back and nodded.

Alex, Joe, and Me

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